Every Monday evening in the Whitman College dining hall, Julien Debuis, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in physics from Paris, France, hosts a “French table” where he and a group of undergraduates speak his native language together.
Eugene Yi ’08, a first-year M.P.A. student at the Woodrow Wilson School, set up a holiday study break for Rockefeller College students, dressing as Santa Claus. And although he burned the sugar cookies and dropped his Santa beard, he said the event was “a resounding success in helping students forget about homework.”
Debuis and Yi are two of the 59 resident graduate students (RGSs) who live and eat their meals in the undergraduate residential colleges. Their mission: “to foster community and have fun,” said Shannon Brink ’09, who returned to Princeton in the fall to begin her M.P.A. at the Wilson School as part of the Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative.
That covers a wide range of activities, said Steven Lestition, dean of Mathey College: hosting crossword-puzzle brunches, organizing yoga sessions, scheduling speakers, leading a trip to see a rock opera based on Euripides in New York, and wandering through the dorms dressed in animal costumes.
Creative and energetic, grad students are “a great resource” for underclassmen and upperclassmen alike, Lestition said.
Undergraduates agreed. Kevin Donahue ’12 said grad students “have different interests and backgrounds than your standard undergrad, so they just sort of spice up residential-college life.”
Thomas Tasche ’13 said he has found that grad students “have gone out into the real world, so they have a good perspective.” As an example, he noted that Brink has worked for USAID with the State Department — valuable experience for him, because he is interested in working with State as well.
That type of mentoring, Brink said, is the best part of being an RGS. “I think the fact that I’m an alumna helps me connect with the undergrads,” she said. “I try to share things I wish I’d known when I was a freshman or sophomore.”